Saturday, April 25, 2015

Working on it: Gibney's Work Up 1.3 presents emerging dancemakers

Elena Rose Light has a background in classical ballet and a feeling for history and intricacy. Alyssa Gersony works in job placement for people with disabilities. Ni’Ja Whitson Adebanjo keeps top of mind the abducted girls of Nigeria, virtually forgotten in the mainstream discourse.

All three choreographers are being showcased this week in Work Up 1.3, the latest edition of Work Up, a new four-week series highlighting emerging dance and performance artists, presented by Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center in the intimate space of Gibney's new Studio C.

On the surface, Light, Gersony and Whitson Adebanjo might seem to have little in common.

English Country Ballz (Sadie Hawkins Remix), Light's duet with Margaret Tudor, dwells on the formal, restrained qualities and courtly framing of the waltz. Yet Light casually slips in time-warpy traces of Patti Page and Frank Sinatra songs or slow-mo twerking and provocative poses.

With part of its soundscape sampled and part eerily created live by electronic looping and layering, Gersony's solo, this place with the pretty-sounding name, recalls the shameful history of Staten Island's Willowbrook State School for children with mental disabilities. Closed since 1987 after decades of investigations into overcrowding, unethical medical experimentation and the physical and sexual abuse of its residents, Willowbrook's "pretty name" became associated with hell on earth. Gersony draws on her agility and strength to portray the living fight within a body in captivity and under siege. At times, that unmistakable life flares, equally disturbing and impressive.

An assured, exuberant physicality in When Water Dries the Mouth obscures its choreographer's stated themes of religion-based repression and violence against women. Or so it would seem. Watching Whitson Adebanjo, Kirsten Flores-Davis and Carissa Chavez-Matsushima made me think of the great spiritual, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," but the opposite way around: "I Know How It Feels to Be Free and I'm Going to Show You."  It's as if the performers dance for the vanished girls and young women, dance as who they are or were or could have been or...still are. Dancing their integrity, their resilience, their creativity, their spirit, their desire.

In each work, then, I see dancers responding to the very idea of oppression with resistance shown in sexuality, anger and courage of body and mind.

The final performance of Work Up 1.3 will be tonight at 7:30 pm. Come early for the pre-show talk moderated by Ursula Eagly and to spend some time with Gibney's interesting display of visual presentations created by Work Up choreographers.

Click here for information and tickets for the Work Up series, which concludes next week with presentations by Lauren Ree Slone, Eli Tamondong / Projectile Imagery and Jacob Slominski.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (entrance at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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